Was Adam a historical figure? If you do not believe in the historical reality of Adam, the whole bedrock foundation for Christianity is shaken. Just the same week I happen to be reading Science, Creation, and the Bible, a new survey by Gallup was released showing that 40 percent of Americans still hold a young-earth creationist view. To be honest, the young-earth/old-earth debate may be a sticking point for many Christians, but the essential tenet of a “real” Adam cannot be compromised.
Science, Creation, and the Bible by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III is an interesting read, but falls very short of convincing me that theistic evolution, as they advocate, is true. Carlson is a scientist. Tremper is a reformed theologian. What captured my attention to read this book was the mix of the two authors. What lost me was their conclusion that Genesis 1 and 2 are not to be taken literally or historically, but serve as a sort of Old Testament parable literarily designed to communicate a set of truths to ancient Israel within the framework of their Ancient Near East (ANE) culture. The two go so far as to say the Genesis creation accounts are myths used to teach specific values.
Don’t get me wrong. There is validity in the argument that the creation accounts in Genesis were written in such as way as to demonstrate God’s superiority over Egyptian and other ANE deities. I think this is undoutably true. Genesis is essentially about origins—man’s origins, government origins, language origins, Hebrew origins, etc. The authors make a reasonable case for the “deeper” truths that Genesis teaches. But that’s where its interest for me disappeared. Genesis 1 and 2, the authors claim, is a myth designed to teach certain values, but the rest of Genesis is historical. In the author’s view Adam and Eve are fictional characters, not historical persons.
Upon finishing the book my mind turned to two passages of scripture. Longman argues in the book for scripture to be interpreted by scripture. That’s something I understand. Sadly for Carlson and Longman, scripture would seem to refute their notion of Adam and Eve as fantasy figures. Chronicles 1:1 begins with, “Adam…” at the head of a lengthy genealogy. There can be no doubt that the narrative of I Chronicles is written as an historical account. I Chronicles uses genealogy as part of a strategy to advocate for the kingly line through David. Jews used genealogies to demonstrate the legitimacy of certain family lines such as the levitical priesthood, and the line of kingly succession. Genealogies were regarded by the Jews as factual, historical family accounts.
The other passage that came to mind was Luke 3:38 which is part of Christ’s genealogy also reading, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” Like I Chronicles, Luke’s account is written as an historical narrative (Luke 1:3-4).
Both of these passages clearly present themselves as historical narratives tying the legitimacy of their accounts to the existence of real persons, in real history, in real lines of succession. How then can Longman take the position that Adam is not a historical figure if he holds to the doctrine of inspiration? This seems to me to be a rather significant disconnect. Not only that, but without an historical Adam, Paul’s theological arguments in Romans fall to the ground. Paul’s doctrine of original sin, and the sin nature are pinned squarely on the belief in Adam being a historical person. Paul is not comparing the historical Christ to a fictional Adam. The language he uses regards Adam as historical. If Adam is not a historical figure then the veracity of I Chronicles, Luke, Romans, and host of other writings fall into question.
There is room for debate on issues like young earth, old earth, and even guided evolution. However, there can be little debate on whether Adam was an historical figure. The Bible seems written in such a way that to deny the historicity of Adam would naturally result in denying the historicity of Christ. There’s not a lot of room for something in between.
I’m going to stay on the side of history. The other debates about origins won’t be solved by me, or frankly, by anyone else anytime soon. I can live with the debate. But the historicity of Adam, and thus Christ, are non-debatable.